Sunday, September 25, 2005

Urban shinty of the most compelling kind

2005 Glenmorangie Cup Final
An Aird ,Fort William
Fort William 3 Kilmallie 2
J Clark 37, 87 G Innes 62 D Lamont 20,79

It was third time lucky for Fort William in yesterday’s derby day final . Certainly they were playing on their home pitch but that did not prevent local rivals Kilmallie pushing them all the way in a tough match which was not settled until James Clark’s 87th minute strike took the Camanachd Cup to the town side of the canal for only the second time in the 98 year history of the competition.
0n a wet pitch under dark Lochaber skies the match could have degenerated into a dour battle for supremacy : that it didn’t-given it was played between teams from the same town who know each others style inside out- was a tribute to both sets of players who made light of heavy conditions.
Fort William opened strongly with John McLeod setting Clark clear in the opening seconds but his shot went tamely past. Kilmallie struggled to contain the early pressure and were exposed moments later when wing centre Drew McNeil burst through on the left and rattled his shot off the bar. A series of free hits conceded in midfield merely added to Kilmallie’s problems but the Fort front men squandered the resultant string of chances which their midfield dominance set up. The cause was further undermined when full centre and team captain John MacPhie limped off to be replaced by Robertson.
It was Kilmallie however who scored first with a goal which for all that it was nicely taken has to be put down to carelessness on the part of goalkeeper Scott McNeil. McNeil playing in his 7th Camanachd final contrived to direct a by-hit straight to Kilmallie’s Stewart . He slipped the ball to Donald Lamont who drove it past McNeil for the opener.
The goal lifted Kilmallie. Before it they looked as though they were going to be slightly off the pace all afternoon : now they began to pour through the Fort midfield. Scott Rodgers who had looked sluggish earlier, began to track back for the ball and hurl it forward while the classy Ross Lavin , stepping in to the centre berth vacated by the injured Macphie ,began to lift the team. The game was on and both keepers were drawn into action : first McNeil blocked a drive from Stewart while at the other end Neil MacNiven saved point blank from McLeod.
This was direct shinty , a version of the game suited to the heavy pitches of the West Highlands where the ball is controlled and hit. Neither side was inclined to weave celtic knots of intricate possession in the face of such commitment on a wet park It is the sort of shinty that the switch to a summer playing season should have eliminated . Don’t you believe it; the fans love it.
Fort William levelled the game in the 37th minute through James Clark. A long ball from the Fort captain Gary Innes found Clark . He bullied his way past his marker and squeezed the ball in at MacNiven’s right hand post.
Fort William continued to press in the second period with the pacey Gordy Mackinnon and veteran Victor Smith leading the way. Tactically Mackinnon pushed wide to leave a hole in front of the posts which was ably filled by the imposing figure of Clark. Clark for all that he possesses serious size is relatively mobile but having missed most of the season with an ankle injury there were doubts as to his fitness. There are none now. Time and time again he subjected his marker James MacNichol to the most intense physical pressure and it was only superb goalkeeping by MacNiven which kept his side in the hunt. Fort William’s goal when it came was compellingly simple. A foul taken on the left by Mackinnon found its way to the excellent Innes- he picked up the Albert Smith medal for man of the match- who finished slickly.
And that should have been it. But it wasn’t. Kilmallie contrived once again to chase the game and got back in contention in 79 minutes when referee Kelly who had kept a light but firm grip on matters awarded Kilmallie a penalty after an infringement by Fort keeper MacNeil. Lamont blasted the ball home to set up a thrilling finale.
The pace was frantic: Stewart drove narrowly past; Clark hit the side netting at the other end. Then McNeil made amends for earlier misdemeanours by saving superbly from Rodgers.
Just as the game looked as if it was heading to extra-time the winner came from that man Clark. A midfield free hit reached him at the edge of the box. He controlled it turned his marker and with a powerful drive past MacNiven became a local hero at least on one side of the Caledonian Canal. Who said the sands of shinty time were running out for ageing Fort William side? On this display there would appear to be more than a grain or two left in the glass
An advert for shinty? Definitely. Urban shinty? I think so-that’s what made the crowd so partisan. In the rain below the Ben it was fiesta day- no-one should begrudge shinty’s loyalists their day out.
Fort William: S McNeil A Robertson, J McAllen, N Robertson, D Roger, N Mcphee
D McNeil P Bamber G Innes (Capt) G Mackinnon, V Smith, J Clark,
Liam MacIntyre, D Cameron C Bamber, J Denholm, B Simpson
Mgrs: D Stafford/P MacIntyre
Kilmallie : N MacNiven, J MacNichol, P Carmichael, A Macdonald, E Stoddart,
R Lavin, J Macphie (Capt), A MacNichol, F Massie, S Rodgers, J Stewart,
D Lamont Subs I Robertson M McPherson D Neilson, M Duncan
Mgrs : J Morrison /L Innes
Referee : D Kelly

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